Daniel Craig as James Bond
Casino Royale (November 13/06)
Based on Ian Fleming's first James Bond novel, Casino Royale is a sporadically effective yet lamentably overlong entry in the Bond series and there's little doubt that the film would've been far better served by a more faithful adaptation of the book. But at a running time of 144 minutes (!) - a feat achieved primarily through the addition of needless action sequences - the movie can't help but come off as a relentlessly uneven piece of work. As expected, Casino Royale details the circumstances surrounding Bond's first mission and follows the secret agent as he attempts to take down a sinister banker named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) by beating him at a high-stakes card game within an opulent European casino. It's a simple story that's weighed down by a whole host of superfluous subplots and pointless digressions, with the majority of such moments awkwardly shoe-horned into Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Paul Haggis' exceedingly busy screenplay. The film consequently suffers from an awfully flabby midsection, which - while never boring, exactly - isn't even remotely as interesting as one might've liked. That being said, there's certainly plenty here worth enjoying - with an opening foot chase and a third-act torturing sequence just two of the more prominent highlights. And then there's Craig, a superb actor who offers up a much grittier James Bond than any of his predecessors; it's a choice that generally works, although there's little doubt that it'll take a few more movies before he's entirely convincing as 007.
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Quantum of Solace
Though it boasts the shortest running time in the history of the James Bond franchise, Quantum of Solace ultimately feels like one of the longest - with the erratic pacing, uniformly inept action sequences, and hopelessly convoluted plot effectively cementing the movie's place as an atrocious misfire of unprecedented proportions. The film - which acts as a direct sequel to its 2006 predecessor by following 007 (Daniel Craig) as he attempts to avenge Vesper Lynd's death - opens with a disastrously indecipherable car chase that is, unless one is intimately familiar with the events of Casino Royale, almost entirely free of context, although there's little doubt that it does set an appropriately underwhelming tone that persists for the remainder of the proceedings. Director Marc Forster's obstinate insistence on infusing each of the movie's myriad of action set-pieces with jittery camerawork, rapid-fire cuts, and tight close-ups renders such moments absolutely meaningless, with the filmmaker's penchant for splicing in footage of random events - ie a horse race, an opera, etc - only heightening the pervasive atmosphere of incompetence. The generic action-movie feel extends to virtually every aspect of the production, as screenwriters Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade shoehorn the film's woefully bland characters into a storyline that even the most astute viewer will have trouble comfortably following. The almost total lack of recognizable James Bond elements - ie the one-liners, the opening gun-barrel shot, the 007 theme, etc, etc - compounds Quantum of Solace's various problems, while Craig's tough but charmless performance feels as though it belongs within an entirely different movie (ie he'd be right at home within a Bourne-esque adventure). The end result is a misguided, downright interminable piece of work that surely marks the nadir of the James Bond series, and it subsequently goes without saying that a reboot of the reboot is surely warranted.
A clear and unequivocal improvement over the reprehensible Quantum of Solace, SkyFall follows Daniel Craig's James Bond as he attempts to stop a brutal adversary (Javier Bardem's Silva) bent on destroying M's (Judi Dench) life and reputation. Filmmaker Sam Mendes does a superb job of getting the James Bond series back on track right from the get-go, as the movie kicks off with a breathlessly paced and thoroughly exciting pre-credits sequence that ranks as the best of its type since the Pierce Brosnan era. From there, however, SkyFall settles into a first half that is, more often than not, sluggish and overly serious, with the ensuing lack of momentum compounded by an ongoing emphasis on palpably needless sequences and interludes (eg Bond is forced to pass a series of tests before he can join the fray). It's not surprising to note, too, that Craig's competent yet charmless turn as the world's most famous secret agent remains an ongoing problem, as the actor is simply never able to become 007 to the same degree as such superior predecessors as Brosnan and, of course, Sean Connery. (Ben Whishaw's hopelessly underwhelming take on Q fares far worse, admittedly.) There reaches a very specific point, however, at which SkyFall begins to morph into a decidedly above-average James Bond adventure (ie a fantastic chase sequence detailing Bond's pursuit of Silva in the London Underground), with the movie's exciting and fast-paced second half ultimately compensating, to a certain extent, for the lackluster nature of almost everything that came before. The end result is a terminally uneven entry that nevertheless feels like a step in the right direction, and it is, given the revelations of the final few minutes, impossible not to hope that the series will finally return to its traditional roots in the next installment.